Department of Geology and Geophysics

Environment & Natural Resources Program

Course Website:

GEOL/ENR 1500 — Water, Dirt & Climate
4 Credits — Fall 2011

Lectures in room 1032 AG Bldg.
MWF 10:00-10:50
Students must pick a lab section (in rm 1004 ESB)
T 1:10 - 3:00 pm; W 3:10 - 5:00 pm; TBD
Instructor: Dr. Cliff Riebe
Phone: 766-3965
Office: RM 2008 ESB
Office hrs: TBD
  1. free Online Course Reader *click here*
  2. Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations (2007) Montgomery, D. R. 285 pp.
  3. Dire Predictions: Understanding Global Warming (2009) Mann, M. E. and Kump, L. R. 1st Ed. 208 pp.

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"…that the Earth has not always been here—that it came into being at a finite point in the past and that everything here, from the birds and fishes to the loamy soil underfoot, was once part of a star. I found this amazing, and still do."-- Timothy Ferris (1998)

Course Information: This is an SE course in the University Studies Program (USP). It also satisfies the introduction to geology requirement (i.e., 1000-level GEOL with lab) for degrees from the Department of Geology and Geophysics and is part of the core curriculum in the university's Environment and Natural Resources Program. Prerequisites: None.

Course Overview: This three part course introduces the science and management of water, soil, and Earth’s environment.  The unifying theme is that consumption of non-renewable resources (such as water and arable land) inevitably leads to resource exhaustion and sometimes also dire environmental consequences. In the first part of the course, we consider all aspects of water and water resources, from the hard science of the hydrologic cycle to the policy issues that are central to water resources management. In the second part of the course, we focus on the very earth beneath our feet—exploring how dirt forms from rock, how we use dirt, and how it affects us, with emphasis on natural hazards (e.g., landsliding) and the (mis)management of soil as a resource. Third, we consider climate change, with emphasis on evidence from long-term (geologic) records as well as recent indicators of human-induced changes. We conclude with a hope-filled message: what we can do to make a difference.

Objectives/Outcomes/Standards: Your top objectives in this course should be to (i) acquire a foundational knowledge and understanding of environmental geology and (ii) begin developing a set of quantitative problem solving skills and critical thinking abilities in the weekly lab sections. If you achieve these objectives, you will be well poised to tackle additional coursework in geology and the other natural sciences. If you take this as one of your only courses in the sciences, you will emerge with a better appreciation of the natural world and how it affects you.

Why You Should Take this Course: Over the last several decades, resource conservation and environmental awareness have evolved from fringe concepts to center-stage issues with big economic implications. The protracted oil-well leak in the Gulf of Mexico last year was a blunt reminder of how our ever-increasing resource use can profoundly affect Earth's environment.  More regionally, right here in the US West, fresh water and arable land—two of the three subjects of this course—are becoming increasingly scarce.  Taking human population growth into account, and considering the rapid economic development of the world’s most populous countries, it seems likely that shortages of water and soil resources will cause much political and socioeconomic conflict in the coming decades. To make matters worse, the looming prospect of climate change only increases doubt about whether Earth can sustain current rates of economic and population growth. These considerations leave little doubt that we, as caretakers of the future, must improve our understanding of earth systems.